Dallas Morning News: Fort Worth coelacanth fossil is missing link among world’s oldest animal lineages

The coelacanth research of SMU paleontology doctoral student John Graf was covered by Dallas Morning News journalist Marc Ramirez.

Graf identified a new species of coelacanth from fossil fish bones discovered in Texas. Ramirez described the discovery and identification in a Feb. 1 article, “Fort Worth coelacanth fossil proves to be a missing link in one of the world’s oldest animal lineages.”

Graf discusses the fossil in this video: “100 million-year-old coelacanth discovered in Texas is new fish species from Cretaceous.”

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

By Marc Ramirez
Dallas Morning News

Never mind that it took more than 20 years to give the celebrity critter its due, because out here in Dino Land, things tend to move s-l-o-w-l-y.

And let’s be honest — when you’ve been waiting a million centuries to be identified, what’s another couple of decades, really?

Last year, Reidus hilli officially earned its stripes as a new species of coelacanth, quite the feat for a fish whose path to reality began as a Fort Worth fossil the size of a Girl Scout cookie.

For those who spend their time rebuilding prehistory’s narrative, the find was — as earth science professor Louis Jacobs of Southern Methodist University puts it — “tremendously fascinating.”

“Every place in the world is unique, so every place is a single piece of a puzzle that fits into the whole story of the world,” Jacobs said.

“Our piece is here. This coelacanth provides a piece of our puzzle that we didn’t have before of what life was like and what was here.”

The area known as the Albian Duck Creek Formation stretches over southwest Tarrant County, a one-time marine environment rich in Cretaceous-era fossils between 90 million and 100 million years old, any present company excluded.

Before it was largely developed, a plucky amateur geologist could regularly turn up evidence of ancient sea life, especially after rains that would free clay earth from its moorings.

Around 1990, Fort Worth design artist Robert Reid and a fossil-hunting friend were trolling the soggy wash, seeing what they could find. Typically that would be bits of turtle, shark vertebrae or ammonites, spiral-shelled cephalopods that once filled the seas.
The piece of rock that caught Reid’s eye was small, barely a couple of inches in length.

“I could tell it was some kind of bone material,” he said. “I didn’t know it was fish.”

He could just as easily have left it behind. Instead, he packed it into a Baggie, took it home and washed it off.

And thus the fragment eventually ended up in Reid’s geology cabinet, a millennia-old fossil stored in a cushioned box alongside dozens of other millennia-old fossils stored in cushioned boxes.

And there it would sit for years.

Long assumed extinct
The coelacanth is so old that for a long time people figured it was dead.

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